Editor's Note: This is part 2 of a multi-part series on the Grant County Community Health Council meeting held Monday, March 18.
After Sen. Howie Morales gave a legislative summary to Grant County Community Health Council members, Melanie Goodman of U.S. Sen. Tom Udall's office commended health council staff and "you, the members, for your volunteer hours. You give a lot of feedback to Sen. Udall. We called for feedback on changes if and when the Older Americans Act is re-authorized. I have talked to Connie Hostetler (of the Senior Lifecycle) and Tiffany (Knauf – GCCHC coordinator)."
Goodman said Udall serves on several committees, including the environment, public works, rules, Indian affairs and is now also on the appropriations committee. He will re-introduce the Physical Act for schools to access physical education help. He voted to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act; closed jurisdictional loopholes for Native Americans; voted for Katie's Law to expand DNA collection; related to veterans, he voted for the Burn Pits Registry, which has been signed, to keep a registry of veterans who were exposed to toxic chemicals during the Iraq wars.
Health council member Tony Trujillo said the area is fortunate to have had Udall keep Goodman on his staff after all her work with the retired Sen. Jeff Bingaman.
"It's my pleasure to help," Goodman said.
Priscilla Lucero, GCCHC chairwoman, asked Goodman how much reduction there has been in the Economic Development Administration and Housing and Urban Development, due to the sequestration.
"Udall is working on the continuing resolution to fund agencies after March 27 for the rest of the fiscal year," Goodman said. "The federal agencies are on alert, and each agency will announce its own furloughs."
She said the House passed a continuing resolution to keep the sequestration cuts for the rest of the year, and to let the Veterans Administration and the Department of Defense decide their own cuts. The Senate will likely vote to put in some flexibility for agencies, Goodman said. "Udall voted to oppose the cuts."
Karen Morant gave a report on the Disability Advisory Council, which operates under the auspices of the Health Council. "Our goal is to raise awareness and increase access for those with disabilities."
She cited five ways the group plans to reach its goal.
1) "We will have focus groups to find out what prevents someone from participating in the community. We will collate and do data analysis, so we can help them;
2) "We will use a similar approach that the Local Collaborative 6 used successfully with posters saying: 'I am not my disability';
3) "With the town of Silver City we are trying to develop a resource room for those with disabilities to get equipment to use. In addition, we want to address sensory integration issues with music, equipment, touching and to help increase neuron transfers. We need a space where the community can come to access services, not only for the parents, but also for service providers";
4) She said funding had been received for the group that addresses those with Down Syndrome and Arc, which will bring in a woman to train trainers in sensory integration principles; and
5) Western New Mexico University recently brought in a speaker from the Christopher Reeves Foundation. The speaker was a paraplegic who does project work in Phoenix, Ariz.
Health Council member Mary Stoecker asked about transportation issues, which Morant had mentioned. Morant said she is in negotiations with Corre Caminos.
Council member Evangeline Zamora said since the DAC has formed, there is a lot of networking and collaboration going on. "We hope to continue after the grant expires this summer," Morant said, "because so much good is coming out of it."
Council Coordinator Tiffany Knauf gave a community assessment summary.
"We will finish the profile in the coming weeks," Knauf said. "We will have a strategic planning session with all members, decide priorities and compile the Community Health Improvement Plan by early summer."
She cited the top community concerns in several categories: Environmental Health listed road conditions as the top concern, with wildland fire danger and water issues following right behind. In Economic Health, the top issue was workforce development, followed by job skill training and homelessness; Community and Social Health for Children/Teens listed activities for the age groups as the highest concern, followed by substance abuse and child abuse/neglect; In Community and Social Health for Adults, the top concerns were affordable housing, substance/alcohol abuse, and DWI; and Access to Health Services listed health care insurance the greatest concern, followed by access to local specially care providers and substance/alcohol use treatment.
Council member Sam Redford said she was confused about the difference between workforce development and job skill training. Knauf said workforce development includes a living wage and job creation, while job skill training is just that.
Knauf pointed out that the issue with local specialty providers seems to be one of perception, as there are 88 in the area, "We have the most here than in almost any other area."
Member Terry Anderson said perhaps people are unaware of specialty providers in the area.
Knauf noted that, of the top 10 items receiving the most survey replies, some have not been addressed by the Health Council in the past and some are not just physical health related, but rather address community health and wellness. "I just received the youth substance abuse statistics Here we are at least 3 percent higher in drug abuse and up to twice as much as in the state."
Council member Dr. Don Johnson said he would like to see the health council's established priorities overlaid on the current assessment results. "We can't do much about roads. The data are used for grants, and some are not for the health council, but for use by others to support existing agencies. Is there something they need from us? We need to think about our priorities and specifically which current ones not to drop."
Knauf said the data are an educational tool and used for grants. "The assessment survey gives the public a voice that they don't often have. We can talk to other agencies."
Council member Francesca Estevez pointed out that some of the issues have been priorities since the Health Council began. "We have made progress, but we still have much to do."
"Maybe this survey is saying the public is becoming more aware of the problems, and they want them fixed," Knauf said. "We have to educate the community on the realities."
Lucero suggested a council retreat before June to set the priorities.
"We can do the profile without health council members, but not the priorities or the plan," Knauf said. "We need to meet before we can create the plan."
Lucero, who is serving on the WNMU dean search committees for the reorganization of the university into five colleges, said the search committee has used the data from the assessment, as well as the statistical abstract. "It's pretty impressive to the candidates when we tell them how we got the large response rate."
Council member Cindy McClean of the County DWI program said the alcohol-involved accident rate is overall down, with a slight uptick lately. "Our rate here is 19 percent to 20 percent, with the statewide rate being more than 40 percent as alcohol related. I think the county is doing a good job."
Lucero said a lot of the work needed is about education. "The public may not be aware of what we've done."
Knauf said she is already using the data internally for grants.
She continued by giving her coordinator update.
"The Health Council and community partners have already used the data to bring in more than $350,000 in grants," Knauf said.
The council has completed updating and printing all 2013 resource directories, including ones for cancer, seniors and the general resource directory. The can be downloaded from www.gcchc.org.
The New Mexico Council Alliance worked on two bills during the recently completed legislative session. House Bill 33 sought $1.1 million to fund a community assessment, profile and plan in each county, with Grant County as the lead. HB33 was added to the budget bill, HB 2, but only at $195,000. House Joint Memorial to study the effectiveness of health councils passed the full House and all of the Senate committees, but was never heard on the floor.
The health council has been working on four grants to supplement health council funding. Knauf thanked Assistant Coordinator Kendra Milligan for all her work on the grants. Three have been received—A Cancer Control grant from the New Mexico Department of Health for $17,000 up to a potential $35,000; a Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration grant for $120,000 a year for three years for youth substance abuse prevention; and a Freeport McMoRan Copper & Gold Inc. Community Investment Fund grant of $50,000 to support council community outreach and activities.
"We have also taken over the community calendar, which Anne McCormick used to send out," Knauf said. "It goes out to about 1,000 people. It can also be founded on http://www.facebook.com/gcchc and at http://www.grantcountybeat.com .
Hostetler said she is seeking new members for the Senior Lifecycle group, which meets the third Wednesday of every month at 3:30 at the Health Council office.
"I'm also working on health fairs," Hostetler said. "We will have a booth at the WNMU April 4 event. Our other health fair will be as part of the Mimbres Harvest Festival in the fall. I'm writing a Senior Lifecycle article for the Gila Regional Medical Center Auxiliary newsletter every month. We plan to hold a seven-session training for caregivers this fall. We have formed a group to demystify Medicare and will set up ongoing sessions. We continue to respond to senior issues."
In answer to a question, Hostetler said the Medication Assistance Program continues at the Hidalgo Medical Services clinic, although they are in transition, and at Silver Health Care from 9-11 a.m. Wednesdays. "We are underutilized. We can help people get access to medications they cannot afford."
The rest of the meeting will be covered in a final article.